Democracy has been a keenly debated topic in all spheres of Pakistani lives. People have often demanded for a dictatorial system as soon as they become disenfranchised with democracy. They do this usually after a political turmoil in the country or when two or more major political parties are unable to find common ground on an issue(s). Democracy has long been criticized in many circles for not delivering what was expected of it. However, it has not been adequately given a chance in our country to take roots and show its true colors. Democratic governments have been toppled in the middle of their period to be oft replaced by military dictators or presidential rule. Although democracy alone cannot take Pakistan towards a prosperous and progressive future because it needs certain other factors and conditions which are essential for accruing true dividends of democracy such as apt social environments and literacy.
How can Pakistan progress?, how can there be a single Vision for the future or clear strategies to reduce poverty, strengthen judicial system or grow the economy if we do not first agree that if every successive government comes up with its own vested agenda, we as a nation will never progress? These are few questions that I would address during the course of my argumentative thesis. We have to keep the interest of the country always ahead of our own personal interests – as far as my recollection goes the only leaders who showed this unselfish commitment towards our nation were the groups of committed and selfless leaders who fought the fight for independence and helped create Pakistan against enormous odds.
Democracy in the current state is something they would not have imagined. Our major problems stem from experimenting with various models of ‘imperfect’ democracies. A social state in a true democracy is one in which everyone has equal rights without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege.(Amritya Sen) By this simple yardstick alone, do we really have democracy in Pakistan? Is every adult vote cast freely in our country in the manner that democracy requires it to be meaningful? Are the votes cast recorded fairly? Democracy means government of the people, by the people and for the people. Do the people really rule or are we hostage to a powerful minority? – One that can tamper at will with the results at the ballot box? Whenever there are elections, some of the people who get elected and sit in Pakistan’s assemblies do not deserve to be there. (Nadeem Qureshi)
The problem is that the leaders who get elected by the people to rule over the country are reluctant to give power to the people to rule over their own communities. Those who argue against the democratic setup in Pakistan talk about its peculiar social structure and existing environments. They argue that existing threat to democracy in Pakistan is feudalism. Marc Bloch defined ‘feudal society’ as a warrior aristocracy bound by vassalage in which a lord was a noble who held land, called a fief. Those granted possession by the lord were called vassals, expected to serve their lord. Wealth was derived from agriculture organized not by market forces but by customary labor services owed by serfs to landowning nobles. Rulers who adapted feudal institutions to increase their power were called ‘feudals’, their governments labeled ‘feudal monarchies’. In sharp contrast to the rest of the world, this medieval system has continued to exist and flourish to this day in Pakistan, masquerading under the façade of ‘democracy’.
The feudals’ claim to electoral legitimacy comes from forcing people to vote for them. And if that cannot be done, then manipulating the casting and/or counting of the vote through their designated public officials at the polling booth and higher up the rigging-of-votes ladder. There must be intelligence reports about how the rural seats in Sindh were manipulated by packing the electoral machinery with the PPP’s nominees. On a smaller scale the PTI was deprived of some seats in Punjab. Indeed the worsening moral, social, economic and political crisis in Pakistan can be attributed to a few thousand families in the agricultural sector. Armed with such a monopoly of economic power, they can easily pre-empt political power.Does this mean that democracy has failed in Pakistan? (Nadeem Qureshi)
The ‘new feudals’ have adopted the trappings of the landed gentry, having accumulated wealth either through legitimate means of commerce and industry, or through blatant corruption by misusing their powers as civil servants or military officers. The only way to eliminate the curse of feudalism is by empowering the people at the grassroots level. India has emerged as a democratic polity primarily because of the abolition of feudalism from its very inception. The Muslim League perpetuated and consolidated this system in Pakistan because it was itself a feudal party while Congress was always mainly anti-feudal.
What use is democracy to the individual when the various freedoms are not available at his (or her) doorstep and s/he does not have a say in the governance of his/her immediate community? For Pakistan to be saved we must change the system to reflect the correct interpretation of democracy, not one that works in favour of feudals, the rich and powerful, the influentials and special interest groups. Democracy in Pakistan needs to be revamped and a presidential system which is more conducive to the Pakistani environment needs to be implemented. Such system should ensure that none of these feudals take advantage of the electoral system presently in place and more of the technocrats come forward with their relevant expertise in the field.
Talking about the benefits of democracy, As Amartya Sen has pointed out: ‘no substantial famine has ever occurred in any country with a democratic form of government and a relatively free press.’ According to a study based on 138 countries over the period 1950–1990, ‘democracies showed markedly lower infant mortality rates than dictatorships’ and outperformed the latter ‘at every level of per-capita GNP’.(Fareed Zakaria). Democratization helps overcome security problems. Democracy building, for instance, can help combat the threat of transnational terrorism. As Jennifer Windsor puts it, ‘Democratic institutions can help address underlying conditions that fuel extremism’. Finally and arguably, democracies show less inclination than dictatorships toward waging war against each other.
Democracy is also helpful to major world powers. For example, democracy promotion, while no panacea, would be a useful step toward helping the United States become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international order (to adopt the term used for adversaries), instead of being an object of fear and dislike throughout much of the world. Apart from being a value in itself, a functioning democracy at home holds promise for a simple recognition that we don’t own the world, we share it.(Chomsky p14)
On the contrary, Bruce Russett’s basic point deserves consideration here: ‘the initial creation of democratic institutions may contribute to the explosion of ethnic conflicts, by providing the means of free expression, including expression of hatred and feelings of oppression.’ This point, however, ‘does not mean…that the solution lies in less democracy. Rather, it likely lies in devising institutions, and nurturing norms and practices, of democratic government with respect for minority rights’.(Bruce Russet) We thus need to ask the hard question of how to build democratic institutions without exacerbating ongoing violent conflicts. Proponents of democracy still ask how new democracies in former war-torn countries can successfully build institutions that ‘foster free and open competition without descending into factionalism’ and that make leaders ‘more willing to accept meaningful constraints on their authority’. In other words, they still seek to understand ‘how to build the specific institutions that reduce the risk of violent instability in countries where democracy is being established’.(Bruce Russett)
Moreover, every country has its own challenges and strategies. A homemade strategy is best for overcoming local challenges and threats. There are many democratic countries like Cambodia which remained largely unconsolidated, by demonstrating that the state, political, and civil society institutions did not grow strong enough to establish an effective system of checks and balances.
Majority of “Functioning Democracies” today are on average just over a century old, it takes time and sustained efforts to turn a country into a “Functioning Democracy”. For democracy to flourish you need specific conditions which include high literacy rate, vibrant civil society, fair electoral system, unbiased election commission and independent judiciary. Absence of these “specific conditions” or “factors” means that corrupt politicians will come to power, an incompetent bureaucracy will focus on its vested interest, and poverty and illiteracy will drive people to vote emotionally to false rhetoric’s which will bring the same corrupt and influential people to power again and again. Additionally, lack of proper legal oversight will not allow any accountability to take hold and absence of proper law enforcement systems will allow these politicians to coerce and blackmail the masses – all in the name of democracy, which unfortunately is never realized and this in turn ends up further destroying that country with every attempt.
Before getting into hasty generalization that whether presence of democracy has a direct impact on the standard of living and economic growth of a country, I had to somehow better understand what forms of government were being used by different countries. Then based on the type of government, I considered five key factors including literacy rate (intellectual capacity to think and decide), poverty level (distribution of wealth), neonatal mortality rate (basic health care), strong independent judicial system (judicial and legal systems) and per capita income (economic growth).
Pakistan situation today is like being “between a rock and a hard place”. We have been in existence as an independent country for over 65 years and have nothing to show for it. The following is Pakistan’s performance in the areas described above. (Pakistan’s rank is shown in brackets):1. Literacy 55% (Rank 145/164): 2. Poverty 23% (Rank 117/164
3. Per Capita $870 (Rank 123/164: 4. Neonatal Mortality 53% (Rank 156/164): 5, Sanitation 58% (Rank 110/164).
Now Let us take the example of Nigeria. Nigeria is a democracy under President Olusegun Obasanjo, but the historic rivalries between east and west, south and north, oil-states and non-oil provinces, Christian and Muslim communities, democrats and autocrats, and soldiers and citizens that have bedeviled Africa’s most populous state since independence in 1960 (and before) are still there, seething below a surface calmed or smoothed by the presence of Obasanjo. Military dictators could reemerge, inter-communal conflict could readily reoccur, and the north-south divide could once again become an obstacle to strengthening a state already softened by economic confusion, continued corruption, and mismanagement. Nigeria also performs poorly as a state, and provides political goods adequately at best across the vast mélange of poor and rich provinces that make up its little-unified and much unglued whole. Competition during the national election in 2003 readily loosened the already tattered ties that keep Nigeria whole.
Another useful model exists which is often used to gauge a country’s development level, i.e. “Human Development Index (HDI)”.(Amryta Sen) The HDI combines normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide. It is claimed as a standard means of measuring human development – a concept that, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), refers to the process of widening the options of persons, giving them greater opportunities for education, health care, income, employment, etc.(UNDP)
The basic use of HDI is to measure a country’s development. Pakistan is ranked way below at #136. The list has a total of 178 countries and 90% of the 42 countries below us are all African other then Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh, Yemen and Haiti. We as citizens should be ashamed and outraged to be ranked among such failed and undistinguished states.
If a country in the 21st century is marked by high poverty, low literacy, corrupt administration, unfair judicial system and a struggle to impose democratic rule – that country is unfortunately doomed. In fact most of the countries who have achieved “Functional Democracy” status are the culprits. Instead of helping the “non-Functional Democratic” countries come out of the quagmire of illiteracy, corruption, lack of justice, etc. they force them in, put sanction on them to go democratic – it’s like pushing them off the cliff. We need the western world’s understanding of the ground realities and not only their blind faith in democracy.
Coming back to Pakistan, one of the biggest and most depressing aspects of Pakistani citizens is the lack of Tax culture as well as citizens who do not and will not function in a socially responsible manner. I have estimated that if we were to fix this problem then we as a country could easily be delivering double digit growth year on year. Overall, corruption is probably the biggest culprit which on its own can double our current meager 3% GDP growth. I estimate that nearly 3% of GDP growth is lost out to corruption, pocketed by the officials, rich, politicians or goes to waste due to the lack of good corporate governance and inefficient management practices. In many surveys of IMF and World Bank it is estimated that the black or undocumented economy is roughly double or even triple of what is currently properly documented. In addition implementation of a proper tax culture will help drive government revenues up exponentially; today it is estimated that less than 2% of citizens pay personal income taxes; tax to GDP ratio is one of the lowest in the world at 12%. I feel that based on previous arguments, it is clear that Full Democracy does not survive without the proper atmosphere, i.e. presence of high literacy, low poverty, high per capita income and impartial judicial system
Democracy has been criticized in many spheres for not offering enough political stability. As governments are frequently elected on and off, there tends to be frequent changes in the policies of democratic countries both domestically and internationally. In case of Pakistan each subsequent government has tried to do away with or reverse any economic growth plans that the previous one was pursuing in order to disown that government, even if the project was for the benefit of Pakistan. Many analysts believe that democracy is undesirable for a developing country like Pakistan in which economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top priority. Moreover, in many countries, democratic participation in elections is less than 50% at times, which makes them democracies only in name. If we critically analyze the central tenets of democracy, i.e. equality and freedom, these are frequently absent in ostensibly democratic countries such as Pakistan, and to some extent India, with its caste system and vote-bank politics. I will leave it to your intellect to make a proper conclusion whether Pakistan is ready for democracy or not. To me unfortunately nothing supports this avenue – there is lack of freedom, lack of equality, lack of education, lack of economic development and high level of poverty. You are welcome to make up your mind.
Critically analyzing the history of political systems and especially scholarly works of Fareed Zakaria on ‘Liberal Democracy’, it is clear that we need a paradigm shift in our approach towards government design, structure and operations. Politics and its associated leadership reshape economics, law, culture and even how religion is perceived in a society. Fareed Zakaria has very aptly highlighted in his research that democracy has its dark side. He has researched the evolution of democracy in the West as well as in East including Africa, Asia and South America. He argues that democracy and liberalism are two distinct features and the presence of both is important for a true successful democracy. West has succeeded in implementing liberal democracy in the last century only because even as autocracy they had been pursuing liberal principles. To me the most successful democracies are liberal democracies. To achieve true form of democracy a country must have and value constitutional liberalism – that is have present set of freedoms which includes rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property. A democracy without constitutional liberalism is a key stumbling block facing the world today and is made worse by ever increasing poverty and illiteracy.
A fundamental political fact about Pakistan is that the state , whoever claims to lead it, is weak, and society in its various forms is immensely strong. Anyone or any group with the slightest power in society uses it (amongst other things) to plunder the state for patronage and favors, and to turn to their advantage the workings of the law and the bureaucracy. As a result, Pakistan has by far the lowest rates of revenue-collection (under 10% of GDP) in South Asia. This, far more than the military, is responsible for the state’s inability to invest in education, infrastructure and essential services; and what money is directed to these ends is far too often stolen by the elites.
Pakistan cannot alone be taken towards a prosperous future by democracy and it needs certain other factors. Moreover, the presidential system can also be experimented with. We have to see the different factors that go into democracy to fully understand its structure and as we have seen these certain factors such as feudalism, impartial beauracracy, non-interfering military, etc play a very defining role in how successful democracy will be in Pakistan or any other developing country for that matter. Therefore, the answer to whether democracy can take Pakistan towards a successful future is not that straightforward.
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 Noam Chomsky, “Making the future”, 2012, p14